Polymorphisms in the obesity-associated gene, FTO, have been linked with sensitivity to satiety in children, indicating FTO may be influencing one of the regulatory drivers underlying food intake. In this study, we tested the hypothesis that food intake in a standard eating behaviour paradigm in which palatable food is offered under conditions of satiety would be associated with FTO genotype status, after controlling for differences in body mass index (BMI).
Participants were 131 children aged 4–5 years, taking part in a behavioural study of food intake for whom DNA was available for genotyping. The phenotypic indicator of intake was the child's consumption of palatable food presented after having eaten a meal. We also assessed physical activity using parental reports of the child's enjoyment of active games, their level of activity relative to other children and a standard measure of fidgetiness. Associations between polymorphisms of the intronic FTO single nucleotide polymorphism (rs9939609) and behaviour (food intake and activity) were assessed by analysis of variance controlling for sex, age and BMI s.d. scores.
The distribution of AA (homogenous for A allele), AT (heterogeneous T and A alleles) and TT (homogenous for T allele) genotypes was 18, 50 and 32%, respectively. As predicted, TT homozygotes ate significantly less than heterozygotes (P=0.03) or AA homozygotes (P=0.02). The effect was not diminished by controlling for BMI s.d. scores. There were no significant associations between FTO genotype and any marker of physical activity.
We showed that children with two copies of the lower-risk FTO alleles ate less than those with one or two higher-risk alleles. We conclude that the T allele is protective against overeating by promoting responsiveness to internal signals of satiety.
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We are very grateful to all the families who made this research possible. The research was funded by a grant from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (D19086).
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Wardle, J., Llewellyn, C., Sanderson, S. et al. The FTO gene and measured food intake in children. Int J Obes 33, 42–45 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1038/ijo.2008.174
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